Song of the Day #671: ‘New Pony’ – Bob Dylan

In 1978, two years after Desire, Bob Dylan released one of the most divisive albums in his catalog. I’ve read fans and critics alike describe Street Legal as both his best album and his worst.

I don’t share either of those opinions, but I definitely lean more toward the former. This is by no means a bad collection of songs — on the contrary, it contains some tracks that number among Dylan’s finest compositions.

Street Legal is the second album I bought and heard for the first time for the purposes of this blog series (the first was Planet Waves). I don’t know why I had those particular holes in my Dylan collection (less name recognition, I suppose, and spottier reputations than his other work) but I’m very glad I finally own these albums.

I believe the negative reactions to Street Legal have more to do with its production that anything, on two fronts.

First, this is a 70s album that sounds like a 70s album… Dylan built these songs around a trio of female backup singers and some borderline cheesy saxophone parts, resulting in a record that probably sounded dated the day after it was released. To be fair, the approach works on a few of these songs (I’ll highlight two of my favorites this weekend) but on others you can’t help but wonder how much better they’d sound played more straight.

I think it’s safe to say about Dylan’s career that he hasn’t written many bad songs, but he’s made a lot of questionable production decisions, particularly in the late 70s and early 80s.

Second, Street Legal‘s original mix was apparently botched. In 1999, producer Don DeVito remixed the album to correct those mistakes. That’s the version I have, so I don’t know what fans heard back in ’78 when the album first hit the shelves. Perhaps some longtime Dylan fans out there can post their experience in the comments.

Today’s track, ‘New Pony,’ is a smutty blues number that makes splendid use of the new band Dylan assembled for these sessions. Tomorrow I’ll write about some of the other Street Legal successes.

Once I had a pony, her name was Lucifer
I had a pony, her name was Lucifer
She broke her leg and she needed shooting
I swear it hurt me more than it could ever have hurted her

Sometimes I wonder what’s going on in the mind of Miss X
Sometimes I wonder what’s going on in the mind of Miss X
You know she got such a sweet disposition
I never know what the poor girl’s gonna do to me next

I got a new pony, she knows how to fox-trot, lope and pace
Well, I got a new pony, she knows how to fox-trot, lope and pace
She got great big hind legs
And long black shaggy hair above her face

Well now, it was early in the mornin’, I seen your shadow in the door
It was early in the mornin’, I seen your shadow in the door
Now, I don’t have to ask nobody
I know what you come here for

They say you’re usin’ voodoo, your feet walk by themselves
They say you’re usin’ voodoo, I seen your feet walk by themselves
Oh, baby, that god you been prayin’ to
Is gonna give ya back what you’re wishin’ on someone else

Come over here pony, I, I wanna climb up one time on you
Come over here pony, I, I wanna climb up one time on you
Well, you’re so bad and nasty
But I love you, yes I do

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6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #671: ‘New Pony’ – Bob Dylan

  1. pegclifton says:

    I like the “smutty blues” description; it really fits this song.

  2. Dana says:

    This song and album are completely off my radar screen.

    Not really a bad song, though not one I feel an immediate need to hear again. I’m not sure I hear a strong 70’s stamp on this song. This seems like it would fit in like a Clapton/Cream/Traffic style anywhere from the late 60’s to the 70’s (save perhaps the sax at the end).

  3. Steve Williams says:

    I am one who leans toward this being one of Dylan’s best. I have played it regularly since its release. “New Pony” may be my least favorite track, but “Baby, Stop Crying”, “Is Your Love in Vain”, and “Senor” are great songs. I like the arrangements for this album. I enjoy the fact that Dylan tries a variety of musical stylings.

  4. Pop says:

    Great album, probably in my top ten Dylan albums. “New Pony” kicks ass. Has a great build up.

  5. The Dude says:

    This is one of my favorite Dylan albums, has been for 20 years. The last two songs are among his finest. “Where Are You Tonight?” IS my favorite Dylan song. I think the album gets lost coming behind BOTT and Desire and before the Christian albums, with no “classic” Dylan cuts. Some of the writing seems a bit rushed but overall it just comes together and, in the end, is damn interesting to listen to.

  6. sean J says:

    According to Clinton Heylin the original recordings were done on a soundstage where Dylan was rehersing the band for an upcoming tour. There was too much bleeding and due to the fact that there were many musicians made for a muddy mix.

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